I just hope that, in the midst of all this, Sal’s window has finally been fixed.
Within the next 24 hours, Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) will be going away to jail where he’ll most likely spend the next seven years of his life, after being caught with stashes of heroin in his couch. However, he doesn’t plan on spending the day in utter sadness, instead, he decides to spend it all with his girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), his dad (Brian Cox), his childhood buddies who couldn’t be anymore polar opposite from him (Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his loyal pooch. While Monty still has plenty going through his mind (like who ratted him out, how he’s going to survive his time in prison, whose going to look after his family, etc.), the whole day and night is dedicated to giving Monty one last amazing night that just so happens to also take place after 9/11. Yep, can’t forget about that.
Should come as no surprise to anyone that 9/11 was a pretty hot-button to press on with the media back in 2002, and it should come as no bigger surprise to anyone that Spike Lee was, and in ways, still is a very controversial director that lets you know about his view-point on any subject right away. The combination of both seemed like it would not only offend everybody still reeling from the aftermath of this horrific event in our nation’s history, but ruin this man’s career for the rest of his life, had he not treated this subject properly and with as much respect as he possibly could. I mean, think about it: It was only a year and some odd months after the Twin Towers were blown down, and already, a movie showing sights of Ground Zero was already coming out. Too soon, ya think!?!?!
Well, come to think of it, this was a story taking place in NYC, and though it was a city full of paranoia, fear and anger, it was still Lee’s hometown, and he was not ever going to treat it with disrespect. However, this is no love-letter to the city either, as Lee definitely paints more than a few pretty upsetting pictures of the city he oh so adores and cherishes. There are many times he’ll cut-away to the constant hypocrisies of our time where we see many racist stand-points coming from the minds of citizens, practically hating on other’s because of their skin-color, race, religion or political ideas. And yes, of course I am talking about the obscenity-laced tirade Monty has in the bathroom of the bar in the beginning that is the voice of how most people felt during this time, and still do to this day. These aspects of daily society were always and criticized, but in the post-9/11 world, it felt like a protective-reflex that some of us still use to this day. It’s what changed our lives on that fateful day; Lee knows this, and he never lets us forget it. As we never should.
That said, despite Lee painting a beautiful, if not, terribly honest portrait of NYC, post-9/11-era, there is still a story to be had here, and a pretty damn beautiful one that continues to bring out more and more emotions within me, even as the viewings rank up. Monty’s life isn’t necessarily a complex one, but rich in emotion. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a pretty simple life, that gets a pretty simple movie, yet, is only more than its means because of what Lee does behind-the-camera and the type of feelings he brings out. Not just with his direction, but with his characters and how they tell you everything you need to know about them, even right away when you first meet them.
The clearest example that I hate to give right off the bat, but so be it, is the character of Frank, played to perfection by the always amazing Barry Pepper. Right when we first get a glimpse of Frank, we already know who he is as a character, but most importantly, as a human-being. We see that he’s obviously a hustling, cocky a-hole that thrives on getting as much money from Stock Market investors as he can, regardless of whom it hurts and why. All he knows is that he wants more bang for the buck, so that he can go out at night, with some fine-ass-looking clothes, his brown-dyed hair and prey on whatever piece of filling he can find that not only suits his looks, but his egotistical mind as well. Right away, we judge him because he’s a prick, the same type we would love to be, but never actually admit to, and yet, we begin to see a human deep-down underneath those good looks, clothes and bundles of cash.
Once we realize that there’s more brewing beneath the surface of this greed-fueled a-hole, then everybody else starts to make sense as well. Rather than seeing Monty as a drug-dealing, hustler-and-bustler, we see him as a guy that took whatever he hand he was dealt the easiest, and went through with it anyway he could, all before it came crashing down and ruining his life. Sure, he got the sexy girl, he got the riches, he got the fancy car and heck, he even got the dog-companion, but he still didn’t get a chance to live as free as he planned to, which makes him something of a tragic character, despite you still not feeling all that bad that he got caught in the first place. It’s a sad reality, yes, but it is still a reality that he had to knew was coming down the pipe-line, and is one that he has to live with for the rest of his life. Whether he wants to accept it or not.
And while we get that Monty and Frank are real people, we begin to see the others flesh-out as well. Jacob, rather than being the quintessentially creepy, dorky teacher these types of movies love to throw judgment on, ends up seeming like the type of guy you actually root for, even if it is just so that he can bang his student in order to gain some confidence in his life; Naturelle may be called a “money grabber” and “gold-digging bimbo”, among many names, but after awhile, starts to seem like a girl who found the right man, fell in love and doesn’t want to lose a single ounce of him for five seconds, let alone seven, whole years; and then of course, we have Monty’s father who gets the same old, tired story about how he used to be a drunk and a bit of a shitty daddy once his wife passed-on, but doesn’t ever act like he’s trying to change for the good or that he’s trying to get rid of his past, because he knows that it’s there, he knows his mistakes, and he understands that he can’t keep spending the rest of his life trying to make-up for them, he just has to accept them, move on and hope for the best.
May not sound like the most beautiful, inspiring messages to be throwing around in a post-9/11 atmosphere like the one we have here, but it’s one that Lee artistically commandeers into making us realize our faults, mistakes and issues as humans, and has us wake up and realize that it’s in our blood to do these types of bone-headed decisions, and it’s not right to continue to blame ourselves, or anybody else around us. It’s time to move past it all, face the facts and see where life can take you. Once again, may sound like the most down-beat message ever presented in a flick of this sort of nature, but Lee finds just the right amount of gritty realism and humanity, to flesh both sides out, and have them come together in a perfect mish-mash that makes you happy and hopeful for the country we live in, and the people that inhabit it.
In that general aspect, Lee’s film takes on a bigger meaning than being just a story about a guy who has 25 hours until he gets shifted-off to prison, and instead, becomes the type of slap-in-the-face most of us Americans probably needed at that time, just like we may need now. Then again though, it is STILL about a guy who has 25 hours until he gets shifted-off to prison and, in case my character-descriptions didn’t already convince you yet, well, needless to say, the performances from everybody involved are some of the best that most of them have ever given.
Which, given the heavy-duty talent involved: Does actually mean a whole lot.
Shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody by now, but, in case you needed to be reminded: Edward Norton’s a phenomenal actor and proves that, like usual, here as Monty Brogan, our troubled, yet sympathetic, former drug-dealer we spend the next two-hours-and-fifteen-minutes with (25 hours in his case, hence the title). Norton gives us a character that’s worth giving two shits about, even if we, as well as he, realizes that there were mistakes made in the past. Yet, he shows that there are signs of improvements and changes to be found, and therefore, makes him somebody that we want to see have his life turn around, but at the same time, can’t be fully convinced he deserves his “get-outta-jail-free-card” just yet. Maybe after the first two years for good behavior, maybe? Who knows where Monty would be at today. All I do hope is that he’s at least okay, wherever he may be, or whomever with.
And just like Norton, everybody else in the cast is pretty damn wonderful as well. Rosario Dawson gives Naturelle that natural, Puerto Rican-beauty every character in this movie goes on and on about, and while she does show some signs of foul-play along the lines of Monty’s journey to self-reflection, she still seems like the type of girl that loves her man, no matter who he is, what he does or wherever he is. Philip Seymour Hoffman gets a couple of sweet, awfully uncomfortable bits as Jacob, the nerdy, English teacher who obviously doesn’t keep as in touch with Monty as much as he used to, but still shows enough signs of compatibility that it’s still believable enough as it is. Brian Cox is lovable and heart-warming as Monty’s daddy with issues, but whom still loves and cares for his son no matter what pitfalls he may have went through in the past, and the ones he may be having in the future.
However, as great as these performances (and trust me, there are a few more that should be seen, rather than just told about, trust me), none of them fully lead-up to what Barry Pepper does as that despicable piece-of-flesh I was referring to earlier, Frank. Pepper, who still ranks, in my mind, as one of the most underrated actors of our time, gets every chance to show how much of a huge douche this guy can be, while at the same time, still make us see the cracks within the facade. Sure, he’s totally against the fact that Monty sold drugs for half of his life and made money off of it, but isn’t that angry to where he won’t even be in the same room as him; he goes on and on about how this wild night needs to be all dedicated to Monty and nobody else, and yet, he still spends half of the night ogling at the bartender’s, as well as Monty’s own girlfriend’s, asses; and he even gets on people’s asses for not being as up-to-date with the good looks as he is, yet, he still can’t get past the fact that he’s getting older as the days go by, and eventually, time to settle down is going to be needed eventually. To say that Pepper deserved a nomination for this thing is a frickin’ understatement! He deserved a win, dammit! He was amazing here, and showed the world that not only could he make a terrible human-being somebody to care for, but still somebody that you could see as your own pal, even if times changed for both of you. Frank may not be the most moral human-being out there in the world, but he’s still a human-being nonetheless, and they all have emotions and feelings, right?
Consensus: More of a love-
hate letter to the city that Spike Lee obviously adores, 25th Hour still comes off as beautiful, emotional, complex and painful journey into realizing who you are, what you’ve become, who the people you surround yourself with are and where your life is headed, and whether or not you can actually choose that destiny to begin with. Sometimes however, as we all witnessed on September 11th, 2001, that choice is completely out of our hands.
9.5 / 10 = Full Price!!
Photo’s Credit to: IMDB